by Margaret Bustard
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 ESV)
I stood in the Medieval Sculpture Hall two weeks ago at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. An exhibition called “Crossroads” had opened all the way back in March, but because of COVID-19 I only was able to see it recently on my reunion trip to the museum. A friend and I had been walking around the museum, working on a college assignment and by chance had stumbled into the hall. Upon entering the room, I was confronted by the large marble head of Constantine, his eyes characteristically staring at the heavens. It was in this room, surrounded with works gathered around the themes of “Power and Piety” (depicted by works from the emperor’s three-foot head to art showing the Virgin and Child) that I found myself becoming overwhelmed. There was something about that grand vaulted ceiling, the giant, iron gate, and the massive gray stone walls that felt like it added at least another 2,020 pounds to the weight I feel that I have been carrying on my shoulders throughout this year.
My friend and I continued to walk around the exhibition, reading the different plaques, studying the different faces of the statues, and pointing out different details to each other. I stopped in front of a Netherlandish marble statue of the Virgin and Child (c. 1345). I looked at the serene faces of the two, and my eyes followed the fluid lines of the statue up towards the ceiling. Above the door that we had entered the eyes of Jesus looked down on the room. I had forgotten about the Painted Copy of Deesis Mosaic—Jesus, the Pantocrator (literally “Ruler of All”), standing with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. There was something about the eyes of Jesus watching over the room—a room that presented questions of power—that brought peace to the rest of my walk around that exhibition, and indeed, the rest of The Met that afternoon. Ever since then, that painting has been paired in my mind with a whispered prayer from Philippians 4:7, “A peace that surpasses…”
I am twenty-one years old, going to college with the impractical goal to learn more about beauty—while trying to hold it all together in one of the world’s busiest cities, during a pandemic, in the midst of great civil unrest. I’m told that no age has ever been worry-free, and perhaps each generation must deal with the anxiety of an uncertain future. But this artwork reminds me that I have a hope that is the same hope followers of Christ embraced over 700 years ago when the original mosaic was created in the Hagia Sophia: Christ is on the throne and the peace of God will guard my heart and mind.
Margaret Bustard is a senior Museum Studies student in New York City at The King’s College and has been serving CIVA as an editorial intern working on the next issue of the SEEN Journal.